A bunch of kids set out to shoot a zombie movie and get caught up in a mystery involving the air force and super natural Rubik’s cubes.
If you were like me as a youngster, you probably would’ve been into making Super 8 movies with those little plastic rolls of film that you’d send off to the laboratory and anxiously await their return a few days later to see if what you shot was as magic as you’d imagined. Super 8 is about that innocent era, circa 1979, except what these young filmmakers capture on their amateur film stock is something quite extraordinary.
Joel Courtney is nicely understated in his screen debut as Joe Lamb, a 12 year-old Ohio boy who’s just lost his mother in a work accident. Joe makes models for a hobby and paints them up to look almost lifelike, so it’s only fitting that he should be the make-up artist on his friends’ super 8 zombie production. Riley Griffiths is terrific as Charles, the budding director who understands the need for emotional content in his film and gets lashings of it by enlisting the services of 14 year-old Alice (a lovely Elle Fanning).
“Production values” also matter to Charles so he sets out with his team to capture some by shooting a scene at the local station as the midnight freight train passes. But when a truck suddenly drives onto the tracks and derails the train in a most spectacular fashion, the cast and crew get embroiled in something much scarier than zombies, and something that Kyle Chandler as Joe’s distant father has deal with as deputy sheriff.
This engaging family film was written/ produced and directed by J.J. Abrams who used to make Super 8 monster films himself and was bold enough to send one to Stephen Speilberg who offered him a job restoring his own 8mm home movies. Abrams still doesn’t know why he entrusted a 15 year-old boy to do that but it was the start of a career that led him on to direct films like Mission Impossible 111 and Star Trek. And on this film, Speilberg worked right alongside him as co-producer.
The influence of the master on his student is glaringly obvious with references to everything from E.T. to Jaws. Abrams also uses light flares for extra terrestrial effect, perhaps inspired by Close Encounters of the Third Kind. Together with his cinematographer Larry Fong, who he met at the age of 12 while cutting his teeth on those Super 8 extravaganzas and later worked with on the TV series Lost, Abrams creates a film that looks the way he remembered films from that period, and that is kind of magical.
But what’s so winning about Super 8 is the cast of young characters and their determination to finish their film within the film. Even when everything around them is in total chaos, they roll camera and shoot, like the true professionals they aspire to be. And we’re treated to the fruits of their enterprise as their scratchy zombie film The Case rolls over the end credits.
It’s an unlikely mix of a coming-of-age story and a monster movie. And with lots of classic tunes like ‘My Sharona’ and ‘Heart of Glass’ backing up the action, it’s a nostalgic flash back to a pre-digital world when film was developed in labs and aliens could quite possibly steal your microwave.Get super 8